Vesna Kostic, Sr Communications Officer in the World Bank Belgrade Office, offers this story.
An eight-story apartment building stands at number 42 Radovana Simića—Cige Street in Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. Built between 1975 and 1976, tenants moved in the following year.
Until a year ago this apartment building didn't officially exist. The property registration records said a small house stood on that plot of land.
This is an example of the state of property registration in Serbia until recently. When Serbia started land administration reforms in 2004, only nine percent of all cadastre municipalities had unified and updated property and ownership records. Many land transaction records were incomplete, out of date, or not noted at all.
The situation was the worst in cities, with fewer than 30 percent of apartments registered in any of the viable registration systems. The procedure was so gruesome and lengthy that no one wanted to bother.
Nada Poljak, a 59 year old travel agent, was among the people who never cared much about registering her most valuable asset—an apartment in downtown Belgrade. Then a few years ago, she decided to open her own private business. She needed collateral for a bank guarantee. Her cozy apartment was an obvious choice.
"At the time, all the hassle I went through when registering the ownership of the previous apartment came back to me. My God, I thought, it would take me ages to get a property folio. I will have to run around from courts, to municipalities, to cadastre, and back. But once I started doing it, I found the things have improved dramatically and I had the property folio in my hands within a few days."
Nada is only one among millions of Serbian citizens who are benefiting from the modernization of the system of property rights registry in the country which happened thanks to reforms taken by the Government of Serbia and supported by the World Bank through the Real Estate Cadastre and Registration Project.
Milica Tomić, an associate lawyer in the "Miljan Miljanić Law Office" explains how messy the starting point was: "Before, you really needed a proper guide to take you by the hand from one government institution to another if you wanted to achieve anything. Even then you couldn't be sure the job would be done since records were incomplete, often out of date, and sometimes didn't exist. Now you have all the data updated and gathered at one place."
Tanja Tasić, the head of the department in the Republican Geodetic Authority, remembers difficulties on the other side: "Since all the data were hand written, it was frequently impossible to read them, so one needed the skill of a code decipherer to figure out who owns what, where, and why. Today everything is digital, and with just a click of your computer mouse you have all the details about any property."
Serbia has established a unified register for almost all of the cadastre municipalities.
"Serbia now has a unified and complete record of real estate ownership for the first time in its history," says Nenad Tesla, the Director of the Republic Geodetic Authority. "We have processed over 17 million cadastre plots and over 600,000 mortgages. We registered over 5,000 buildings, garages, and warehouses that were not recorded."
The project also supported training for more than 1,500 employees, 36 cadastre premises were refurbished and modernized, two new buildings were built, digital archives established, and a national network of 44 permanent Global Positioning System stations developed.